MamaNym's Guide to Parenting with Love and Laughter

I've received a number of emails commenting on my parenting style and asking how on earth I handle some situations with humor when anger might be the first emotion to surface. Anger tends not to be a productive form of communication, so I try to avoid it when possible. Love and laughter are more fun, anyway! And that's what parenting should be - FUN! Even on the days the kids are driving me insane the most, if I can find laughter and remember love, things can turn around quickly.

I learned early on in life the importance of using humor as a tool to turn negative situations into positive feelings. My mother can attest to this fact. As a child, I often made my mother laugh when she was trying to reprimand me for something - and she learned that if she wasn’t so angry that she couldn’t laugh in that moment, then the situation probably wasn’t as horrible as her initial reaction told her it was ... and I was off the hook, or at least on a smaller hook.

That leads me to perhaps a slightly frightening point: Kids are the experts in this area, so using humor in parenting may take some craftiness on our part. Children are born with humor, with laughter – they are beings of love and forgiveness. As we grow up and learn “the ways of the world” as dictated by our culture, we lose a lot of that…or maybe just close it off in order to act more “grown up.”

Think back to your own childhood – did YOU use humor in your relationship with your parents? Do your children use humor in negative situations - even if it's unintentional humor?

Let’s talk about humor: Why is humor important, anyway? Humor:

- is a positive way of dealing with what could be a negative situation.
- invites a solution that works for parent and child, not just the parent.
- creates more intimacy and a closer bond between parent and child.
- shifts perspective, putting things in a less serious, and perhaps more realistic light
- helps you let go of defensiveness
- keeps you in the moment with the present situation, instead of in the past ("How many times have I told you?" "Why do you always...?" )

Laughter is the best medicine - and can remedy many tough parenting situations. Remember the 
47 ThingsLaughter can be an indispensable parenting tool. 

What does laughter do?
  • Boosts your mood by releasing endorphins
  • Decreases stress hormones
  • Relaxes your body
  • Improves oxygen flow to the brain
  • Lowers your blood pressure
  • Strengthens your immune system
  • Reduces physical pain
I bet everyone can immediately bring to mind one memory of laughing with someone. Most of our best memories have to do with situations in which we laughed. Alternately, some of our worst memories are from situations in which we were scolded or belittled. When I think about the memories I want my kids to have of their childhoods, I want them to think back and remember the laughter.

How do we get from having negative feelings at the situation to being in a mindspace where we can use humor instead?
- Recognize what your immediate reaction is (frustration, yelling, etc) and plant the seed in your mind that should you experience that immediate reaction, you’ll wait before acting on it. Breathe before you speak.

- If possible, prevent situations from arising. For example: Asking vs. Telling ... If I ask, "Could you please clean off the dining room table?" I'm leaving myself open to the possibility that you'll say no. If I tell you, "I need you to clean off the table," it's clear that it's not negotiable.

- BREATHE! This is key. Before responding to the situation, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This will help to slow your mind and body down so you can think and not just react.

- Smile. It’s difficult to be negative when you’re smiling. Or better yet, laugh. If it accomplishes nothing else, your kids will think you’ve lost your mind and will momentarily stop in their tracks to survey the situation.

- Pay attention to your physical response – don’t let stress settle in! Are you clenching your fists? Tightening your jaw? Putting your “mean face” on? Relax your body before you continue

- Assess the situation:
o Is it really worth getting upset over?
o Is it really as bad or serious or important as your initial thought or reaction tells you it might be?
o Is there a way to handle the situation from humor and love rather than frustration or anger?

- Argue with yourself first … in your mind. You may just find out that the argument isn't worth it - or worse yet, that you are wrong!

- Start your verbal response either first saying or thinking, “I love you…” It’s difficult to be *that* angry or frustrated with someone you’ve just verbally or mentally affirmed that you love.

- Let your creative juices flow! Complement the child's “angry face” and try it out yourself; remind the child that there is no giggling because they’re miserable and miserable people don’t giggle so don’t even consider giggling or even smiling for that matter; or rewind the conversation and act out both parts.

- Get physical – but not in a bad sense. Sometimes words just fail us, but as the saying goes, actions can speak louder than words. Demonstrate the behavior you’d like from your child instead of trying to verbalize it!

- Turn it into play. Play is the language that children understand.

Getting physical can be fun, and can be a great release for all involved. This can be especially useful with toddlers and preschoolers, but can be equally effective with older kids and even teens. Whether it's your toddler climbing somewhere he doesn't belong or your teenager dancing inappropriately at a party, physicality can be effective. Take the toddler, put him ON the thing he's supposed to stay off of, then take him OFF, saying the words ON and OFF ... and repeat and repeat and repeat, exaggerating movements and words and getting sillier as you go. Put on some tunes, take your teenager's hand, and dance with him, showing appropriate undulations and hand placements versus inappropriate - and perhaps at the same time, how ridiculous it all looks in the first place. Or maybe it's just you that looks ridiculous doing it. It's sure to be something the teen won't soon forget. 

In some situations, all you need to do is follow your child’s lead. Remember Too Much Moose? Yes, that took some energy, but now whenever he makes the noise, I just join in and within seconds he’s “disarmed” and calm enough to tell me with words what’s upsetting him.

How do we practice parenting with love and laughter?
-     - Count your blessings. When you’re feeling down, anxious, angry, frustrated, etc, list the positive things about the situation, the day, the person.

- Try laughing at situations rather than bemoaning them. Even if you don’t immediately see the humor, laugh and ask yourself, “what just happened?” Your answer might surprise you.

- Take yourself less seriously. Laugh at yourself. Share embarrassing situations you’ve been in with others. By taking ourselves less seriously and seeing ourselves as only human, it will help us to see others that way as well. A little empathy can go a long way.

- Put it in perspective. Is it really that serious? Is it really your problem? A week from now, will it really matter? Might you be able to look back at the situation someday and laugh – if you even remember it at all?

- Look at situations that arise, both positive and negative, with acceptance – look not at the behavior, but the situation your child is presenting you with and accept it as a path toward understanding your child better.

- Let your stress go. The more stress you build up, the more difficult it is to accomplish anything, nevermind playful parenting.

- Emulate your children. Children are the experts at play, levity, and not taking themselves seriously. We have a lot to learn from them!

Encouraging a sense of humor in our children is also important. A sense of humor helps children cope with life's stresses better, and someday will help them be better parents. How do we inspire a sense of humor in our children?

- Create a good environment for humor
   o Children who are in an atmosphere where fear or worry is the primary emotion have a more difficult time developing a sense of humor.
   o Children who are worried about being criticized have a more difficult time expressing their sense of humor.
   o Do not make fun of or put down a child as a joke – this can be hurtful, not helpful.

- Figure out what makes your child laugh and realize their sense of humor might differ from yours.

- Laugh with your children.

- Parent with humor and laughter.

But wait - what if you find your child looking like this: 
Well, you could scream at the child for getting into the paint and making a huge mess. Or you could stand, stare at her for a minute, tell her NOT TO MOVE, and grab your camera. You can ask the child whether or not that was a good idea - and when your child answers with a huge grin and a satisfied, "Yeaaaaaah," you can laugh. You can realize how absolutely fun it would be to slather yourself and your surroundings in green paint. You can agree with your child that it sounds like a lot of fun - but suggest next time that this can be done in the bathtub with washable kid's paint for easier cleanup. You can have a blast hosing down the child in the tub and cleaning up the mess with your child, a big bucket of soapy water, and two giant sponges. You can leave behind a little green paint as a reminder of time well spent with your child. 

Parenting with humor and encouraging our children’s sense of humor not only benefits the child, but it benefits us and our entire families. It also tends to  entertain the people who happen to bear witness to what might just seem like our more insane moments as we have conversations with inanimate objects or ourselves, and the myriad other things we’ll find ourselves doing in order to put more laughter and less anger into our lives. 


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